It started with a group of high school students calling themselves the “unhooked seniors”: unhooked from any obstacle to graduate, not allowing potentially dangerous hooks to snag them out of school.
It’s a pretty simple concept for a teenager. But if you don’t know where you’re sleeping at night or where your next meal is coming from, or if you don’t have anyone in your life supporting and encouraging you, it’s not so simple.
Enter Cudas Unhooked
|The new Cudas Unhooked home was built in 2016. It's 100% debt free thanks to sweat equity and donations from the community.|
Every August, approximately 600 freshmen walk through the doors at New Smyrna Beach High School. Four years later, only 300 of those same students cross the graduation stage. It’s a statistic many realized had to change.
In 2008, Linda Froman, a community and school leader in New Smyrna, started with 16 seniors and a fierce determination to help those students graduate. Many in the group were focused more on survival rather than academic success. Most were financially challenged and in emotionally non-supportive situations. Some were labeled as homeless.
Linda promised them support, encouragement and celebration, even a prom dress if that was needed. She really didn’t know how she would fulfill that promise or how she would pay for it. But she knew there was a need. She knew the community and their ability to deliver.
In 2009, Shawn Lane, now chairman of Cudas Unhooked, heard the story of Linda’s involvement and met with her and the New Smyrna Beach principal, Dr. Carol Kelley. Lane asked them to “dream big” about next steps. Three weeks after that meeting, the first Cudas Unhooked house was rented.
Furniture, household goods, linens, clothes—everything needed for a home—was donated from local thrift stores run by Coronado Community UMC, the non-profit People for Drug Free Youth and others.
Meals were cooked by a team of local volunteers and delivered daily so the residents and “bridge tender” (the adult in charge of the home) could sit down together for an evening meal. In the next few years, this home would be a place of refuge for many of New Smyrna students.
The program took a huge step forward in 2016 when a new Cudas Unhooked home was built, debt free, thanks to donations and in-kind gifts from the community. The new home provides shelter for several students, but its reach is much larger as a safe place for kids to do homework, engage in social activities and receive encouragement.
Today, Cudas Unhooked is a thriving and growing program supported by the New Smyrna Beach community, including many churches like Coronado Community UMC. Scholarships have been endowed for those involved in Cudas, and services like dental check-ups are donated. Contributors also provide essential goods like shoes and socks as they are needed, and students participate in high school programs like showing an FFA goat at the county fair or being a member of a school athletic team.
Weekly roundtable lunches involve discussions about grades, resumes and after school opportunities at the Cuda home. Student birthdays, special holidays, proms and homecomings are celebrated together as a family.
Cudas Unhooked is not simply a handout for the students. Before students join the program, they sign a contract to do their part. They agree to rules and goals and are held to standards. Love and support are freely given, but student effort is required to succeed. It’s a commitment on both sides.
In one Facebook post, the Cudas Unhooked family posted “a little kindness goes a long way.” That, in a nutshell, is the basis for Cudas Unhooked. From Linda Froman’s strong belief that she would find a way, the ripple effect has been profound.
Today, there are young people who can proudly tout a high school diploma, which may never have happened without the non-profit center. Students experience the security of having a roof over their heads and warm meals.
For many, it’s simply understanding the power of a prom dress and an opportunity to participate to become unhooked from all obstacles.
--Amy Nowell is Communications Coordinator at Coronado Community UMC